Compass U-Pass

Compass Card Reader (flickr/Steve Chou)

Something happened this past Friday for transit in Vancouver. The first of the U-Pass BC Compass Cards rolled out. I’m surprised that TransLink is not tooting their horn more in this case. This is a big step in the implementation of the smart card system. Perhaps all the technical glitches that have delayed the full Compass Card release are making TransLink hedge their bets and not make a big splashy announcement.

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Hokkaido University

Just to the north and east of Sapporo Station is the large campus of Hokkaido University. The university is known locally by it’s abbreviated name of Hokudai. Hokudai was founded in 1876 as Sapporo Agricultural College by an American, Dr. William S. Clark. Agriculture is still a big part of Hokkaido University.

The university is full of trees, shrubs, and all sorts of greenery. There are a few ponds and a tiny creek that also flow through the campus. It reminds me a lot of how North American universities are set up with large open spaces. Many of the buildings dated back to the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. I keep finding North American influences in Sapporo and Hokudai has plenty of those influences. A couple of the campus buildings look like they came out of the Old West.

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Toronto 2013 – Toronto at Night

Previously on metrobabel:

At the end of September, I had the chance to be in Toronto for a work-related meeting.  The weather in Vancouver had already an added crispness while Toronto was still hovering in the low 20’s and high teens for temperature.

[Toronto 2013 – Around the Royal York]

After all the work meetings were done for the day and I had grabbed a little dinner, I would wonder around Toronto with Camera in hand.  This time, I had also carried along my Gorillapod SLR-Zoom.  I couldn’t fit my usual tripod in my carry-on to Toronto.  So I packed my much smaller Gorillapod.

I’ve never actually done much long exposure photography.  However, Toronto is probably a perfect place to take a lot of photos at nights with all the bright lights of the largest city in Canada.  So the small and flexible Gorillapod would help me to keep my camera still while I took long exposures.  The only problem was finding enough flat top newspaper boxes in the right spots to get the right angles.  Sometimes I just put it down on the sidewalk to take some of my shots.

Here are my shots of downtown Toronto at night.  The photos were taken on two separate nights and are primarily from the west side of downtown Toronto.

RBC Centre – Wellington St at University Ave

Toronto International Film Festival’s TIFF Bell Lightbox – King St at John St

SW corner of King St and John St

Chapters & Scotiabank Theatre – John St at Richmond St

CHUM Radio neon – Duncan St and Richmond St

Art Gallery of Ontario – Dundas St at McCaul St

Sharp Centre for Design at Ontario College of Art & Design University

Ontario College of Art & Design University

Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts – University Ave and Queen St

Edmonton LRT – Downtown and University of Alberta

The downtown Edmonton LRT stations are currently all underground.  It starts at Churchill Station in the east.  Churchill is right under the Sir Winston Churchill Square which is home to festivals every weekend in the summer.  It’s also right by Edmonton City Hall.

Edmonton City Hall (2012)

The signature undulating Frank Gehry curves of the Art Gallery of Alberta (2012)

The LRT then swings straight westward underneath Jasper Avenue.  3 stations sit underneath Jasper Avenue.  From east to west the stations are Central, Bay/Enterprise Square, and Corona.  I didn’t get to spend much time visiting the downtown LRT stations.  I got a few shots in Corona Station that turned out, but the rest didn’t make the cut.  The glass chandeliers from the mezzanine hanging over the platform are what caught my eyes at Corona.

After Corona Station, the LRT then turns due south to the Alberta Legislature grounds. The grounds can be accessed by disembarking at Gradin/Government Centre.  It’s a quick walk up to the parliament buildings.  Tours of the building are always available.

Alberta Legislature reflecting pool and fountain

Stained glass in the Alberta Legislature

The train leaving south from Gradin/Government Centre soon exits the darkness of the downtown tunnels and emerges along the LRT Bridge crossing the North Saskatchewan River.  Just east of the LRT Bridge is the towering and historic High Level Bridge.  The train’s exposure to the sun is brief and it soon enters the deepest underground LRT station in the city at University Station.

View of LRT train crossing the North Saskatchewan River from the High Level Bridge Streetcar (2012)

University of Alberta crest and motto

U of A’s HUB Mall connected to University Station

For the longest time, University Station was the end of the line for the LRT.  It wasn’t until 2006 that the LRT had finally expanded further south.  The first of the stations on the Southern Extension was Health Sciences Station. I think one of the most impressive collection of health and medicine facilities surround this ground level station.

Health Sciences Station

Stollery Children’s Hospital

Beyond Health Sciences Station are 4 more stations that make up most of the Southern LRT extension.  All of which were completed between 2009 and 2010.   More to come in the next post.

Walking Boston – Harvard Square to WardMaps

After my Harvard student-led tour and a quick break at Pinocchio’s Pizza, I made my way north from Harvard Square along Massachusetts Avenue.  I passed by the Cambridge’s Old Burying Ground, Cambridge Common, and some of the other Harvard University buildings along Mass Ave.

Once I had walked north out of Harvard Square, the traffic was thinner and there were much less people walking.  Mass Ave at this point is fairly wide, but not extremely busy.  It was easy for me to jaywalk back and forth across the road to see different storefronts and take different photos.  This stretch of Mass Ave between Harvard Square and Porter Square had some four-storey and six-storey apartment buildings and short one-storey buildings with small businesses on either side.

My destination for this walk up Mass Ave is not a typical tourist destination.  I am both a map and transit geek.  So my destination was 1735 Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge.  It’s a shop that helped to satisfy both of my geek interests in one stop.  WardMaps LLC offers authentic antique maps, quality reproduction maps, cartographic and transit themed gifts, and vintage transit memorabilia.

It’s a small store, but it’s filled with reproduction maps to drool over.  I must have spent somewhere between half-an-hour to an hour in the store just perusing.  The maps are filed in boxes the way back issue comics are kept in comic book stores.  My wife and I try to collect Paris themed decor, so it was only natural to buy a Paris map.  I bought an 11″ x 18″reproduction of an 1834 Paris map originally created by the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, or SDUK, in London.  I just love to say the name of the Society.

And since I was in Boston, I had to get a Boston map.  There were obviously quite a few Boston maps available since I was in the Boston area.  I ended up getting an 8.5″ x 11″ reproduction of an atlas map.  It shows Boston from 1909 and orients the city with east on top and north on the left.  That’s not the usual way to display Boston on a map.  It gives a different view on how to look at the Boston peninsula.

Plus, I wanted some transit related memorabilia, but there were no train models available.  So I settled on some highly functional coasters.  One was a photo of the Red Line tracks and the other was a Green Line car.  I also ended up buying coasters with an antique Boston map and a Fenway Park photo of directions to the Green Monster Seats.


I was very happy with my purchases, even though the coasters were $5 each.  I thought they were pretty unique and I have been using them a lot since I’ve gotten back home.  I particularly like the Boston 1809 map coaster.  If you compare it to how Boston looks in the 1909 map above, the city has grown so much and filled in so much land to accommodate that growth.

Walking Boston – Harvard University

1:30pm on an early April afternoon in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  About 20 of us gathered at Harvard Square for the student-led Hahvahd Tour.  The tour is earmarked at $10, but that’s just the recommended price.  You don’t pay until the end of the tour.  Most, if not almost all, of the money goes to a much-deserving Harvard freshman who is trying to get some extra beer money on the side to pay for his extracurricular activities.

An artist at Harvard Square showing off his skills

Our tour guide was a young freshman from San Diego, California.  I think he had already done a tour or two that day because his voice was already starting to get hoarse.  There was also this great greeter who was greeting everybody who was joining the tour.  He really knows how to talk you up. He was a Boston native and also a Harvard freshman.

With twenty strong, we walked across Massachusetts Street to the main Harvard campus and into the Harvard Yard.  The Yard is surrounded by student dorms.  Some of them are very old dorms.  A lot of them are freshman dorms.  Our tour guide would point specific rooms and windows and note who once slept there.

It’s been a couple months since the tour, so I have since forgotten a lot of the specifics, but the guide would rattle off names like Natalie Portman, Matt Damon, Samuel Adams, and Mark Zuckerberg.  No Harvard tour is complete without mention of the Facebook creator these days.

Massachusetts Hall, or Mass Hall as our tour guide referred to it, is one of the oldest student dorms in the Harvard Yard.  It’s first couple of floors are actually administrative offices.  The floors above are dormitory rooms.  There is a careful screening process for potential residents of Mass Hall to ensure they are well-behaved and not likely to disturb those working on the main floor.  Many of the founding fathers of America resided here such as John Hancock, John Adams, and Samuel Adams.

Then there is the statue of John Harvard, but it’s not really him.  All images of John Harvard were destroyed in a fire. So this statute is actually an image of some art student posing as a model.  Also, John Harvard did not truly found the university; he was simply a benefactor.  Then, the statue says 1638, when in fact the college was founded in 1636.  So there are the three lies of the John Harvard Statue.  Also, our young guide highly advised not rubbing the toe of the statue in hopes of gaining good luck for entry into Harvard.  Many a practical joke has been played on that toe, so rubber beware.

Amongst all the freshman dormitories surrounding Harvard Yard, there is also a small chapel nestled in between and behind the buildings.  This is Holden Chapel which the third oldest building in the Yard and home to the Holden Choirs.

We exited Harvard Yard on the opposite side and encountered the most modern and possibly the ugliest building on campus. It’s the Science Center.  It’s a huge departure from the Colonial brick and mortar buildings of the Harvard Yard. It was built in 1973 and looks totally out of place.

Harvard’s Memorial Hall looks like a church or some other important building; however, it is actually the freshman dining hall.  Now that’s some piece of architecture for just a dining hall.  The interior is said to be modeled after a dining hall at Oxford.  That same dining hall in Oxford was also the inspiration for the dining hall featured in Hogwarth’s in the Harry Potter movies.  I was hoping to go in and take a look, but that wasn’t a part of the tour.

The Widener Library is named after Harry Elkins Widener.  He was a 1907 graduate of Harvard who perished on the Titanic.  The guide said that he was returning from Europe where he had been collecting rare books.  The rumour is that he was almost successfully evacuated when he realized he left a rare book in his cabin.  So he went back to get it.  And that was the end of Harry.  The Library is a memorial to Harry from his mother.  She made a $3.5 million donation to build this library.  The other rumour is that Mrs. Widener stipulated that a secret room be reserved in the building with a reading desk and fresh flowers everyday for her son’s spirit.  Who knows if it’s true or not, but it makes for great story.

Our tour then left the main campus and went south across Massachusetts Street to some other Harvard buildings outside of the traditional campus area.  The most memorable of these places would be Kirkland House.  We didn’t walk right past Kirkland House, but our guide pointed out the second floor window where Mark Zuckerberg once resided and created Facebook.

At the end of the tour, we went back out to JFK Street where there are shops and restaurants.  He pointed out a famous pizza place, Pinocchio’s Pizza and Subs.  It’s a small pizza place with seating for about a dozen people on a quiet side street, but it’s famous for some of its famous patrons.  Mark Zuckerberg now figures big on celebrity lists and on the walls of Pinocchio’s.  The other big name is native Bostonian, Ben Affleck, who frequents the joint for his pizza fix when he’s in Beantown.

So when the tour ended and I paid my $10 for the tour, I went back to Pinocchio’s for some food.  After all that walking around, I worked up an appetite.  A good helping of pizza sounded like it would do the trick.  I couldn’t care less how greasy the pizza looked, it certainly hit the spot after an hour or so of walking around.  It was a bonus that the owner was more than happy for me to take a photo of him getting my slice of pizza in the kitchen.  Grazie!

SFU Gondola – Gordon Price’s take

There’s been some debate regarding the SFU Gondola plan.  Some of the outrage is from residents concerned about effects on their properties.  Some are outraged by the fact that TransLink is even considering other transit projects other than the top-prioritiy Evergreen Line.

I think Gordon Price puts things in good perspective in his letter to the Burnaby Now.

When I first heard about the idea of a gondola to replace that little bit of hell, I was an immediate fan – but skeptical. Would it be cost-effective, practical for students, faculty, staff and the residents of UniverCity – and not an unwarranted intrusion for those who lived below?

If there is a good business case – and if TransLink can mitigate privacy concerns for people who live below the proposed path – then the gondola should be built, and quickly.

If, on the other hand, a business case fails to demonstrate savings in transit users’ time, in taxpayers’ money and in increasingly hazardous carbon dioxide emissions, the project will likely get bumped down the long list of transit priorities – delayed indefinitely or lost forever in the crowded file of fabulous ideas that didn’t quite work out.

Either way, that’s the basis on which the SFU transit gondola should be judged: on its merits.

However, the tram could have a really good potential to save TransLink money in the long run, if it is true that it will help re-allocate buses to other areas.  Even though the Evergreen Line does deserve a top-priority status for transit projects in Metro Vancouver, we shouldn’t tie TransLink’s hands from pursuing other potential transit projects.

Portland Aerial Tram - an example of urban gondolas at work

High-Tech Bike Storage Facility Opens in Buchanan Tower

High-Tech Bike Storage Facility Opens in Buchanan Tower.

Universities have always been places of innovation.  So it’s nice to see UBC have some brand new fangled bike racks.  Too bad UBC has always been way out of riding radius.  Even biking to work is a long stretch for me.  I’m not in the favoured 5 km radius from work.  Fun looking racks, though.  The article also says that Buchanan’s inner courtyard has been renovated and will add a little splash in the middle of Buchanan.

The two-tier racks inside can hold a total of 96 bikes. Weighted mechanisms leveraging an hydraulic spring ensure that even the slightest cyclist can slip a bike into a slot on the top level with minimal effort, literally guiding it into place with a couple of fingers.

The steel structures were made by Urban Racks, a local firm that also supplies the newly installed inverted-U bike racks for the City of Vancouver. The company has a reputation for innovative design and its racks are popular with cyclists all over North America.

Photos are copyright of Spencer Kovats.